Week 8: Content & Containers – A Question of Quality

My examples for this week’s discussion of blurring the line between content and container are less textual, or book-based, and more audiovisual, but still relate to the digital context. The first is from a documentary entitled “The Life and Times of Allen Ginsberg,” directed by Jerry Aronson. I studied this film for my Managing Audiovisual Materials course last summer, and while watching it I noted that the clips of video interview footage with Ginsberg himself are of very poor quality. At times, tracking lines or static lines (as us VHS kids are familiar with) would show up in the picture. I am unsure whether this was due to mismanagement in preservation or simply old age or a low-quality format, but in any case it was quite distracting for the viewer. I think this is a good example of the container superimposing itself onto the content, as it calls attention to the medium in a very obvious way.

Another example which is somewhat similar, but takes place in another medium, is the phenomenon of pages which lose quality after being photocopied, and then photocopied again, etc. I was reminded of this annoying phenomenon recently in my drawing class, when my teacher provided us with a copy of a photo which had clearly been used before, and recopied from a copy, as someone had drawn gridlines on it. While this issue can easily be avoided by keeping a clean master to copy from, it happens often. Both of these examples demonstrate the container showing up in the content in a negative way, and drawing attention to the processes behind the object’s creation. In fact, I would argue that it tells a sort of story about the life of the object, in terms of where it has been and how it has arrived at its current location.

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